They’re all over your Facebook feed, and for good reason. Personal essays by popular authors and novices alike are relatable, engrossing reads. Sometimes, their heart-wrenching recollections stay with you for days.
For reporters or academics, it can be hard to step back from research rituals and write from personal experience. But a personal essay can endear you to an audience, bring attention to an issue, or simply provide comfort to a reader who’s “been there.”
“Writing nonfiction is not about telling your story,” says Ashley C. Ford, an essayist and BuzzFeed staff writer who emphasized the importance of creating a clear connection between your personal experience and universal topics. “It’s about telling interesting and worthy stories about the human condition using examples from your life.”
But don’t worry if your life doesn’t seem exciting or heart-wrenching enough to expound upon; think of it as writing through yourself, instead of about yourself. “There are few heroes and even fewer villains in real life,” she said. “If you’re going to write about your human experience, write the truth. It’s worth it to write what’s real.”
Where to submit your personal essays
Once you’ve penned your essay, which publications should you contact? We’ve all heard of — and likely submitted to — The New York Times’ Modern Love column, but that’s not the only outlet that accepts personal narratives.
“Submit to the places you love that publish work like yours,” Ford advises, but don’t get caught up in the size of the publication. And “recognize that at small publications you’re way more likely to find someone with the time to really help you edit a piece.”
To help you find the right fit, we’ve compiled a list of 20 publications that accept essay submissions, as well as tips on how to pitch the editor, who to contact and, whenever possible, how much the outlet pays. We’d love to make this list even more useful, so if you have additional ideas or details for these publications or others, please leave them below in the comments!
1. Boston Globe
The Boston Globe Magazine section Connections column seeks 650-word first-person essays. Relationships of any kind are considered. It pays, though how much is unclear. Submit to email@example.com with “query” in the subject line.
Must-read personal essay: “Duel of the Airplane-Boarding Dawdlers,” by Art Sesnovich
Could your personal experience go viral? BuzzReads, the site’s long-form section, accepts pitches for 2,000+ word personal essays. Pay rates vary. Check BuzzReads’ front page for a current masthead and contact info.
Must-read personal essay: Doree Shafrir’s “I Was Sure Freezing My Eggs Would Solve Everything”
This publication is aimed at women over 30. “We aim to entertain, inform, and inspire,” the editors note, “But mostly entertain.” Send your pitch to firstname.lastname@example.org. Essays earn $200.
Must-read personal essay: “I Accidentally Became a Housewife,” by Kate Tuttle
Essays — 4,000 words max — should have a “literary quality.” Include your work in the body of your email to make it easy for the editor to review, and send to email@example.com. No pay.
Must-read personal essay: “Face Value,” by Randy Osborne
Want to write for this Jewish parenting site? To submit, email firstname.lastname@example.org with “submission” somewhere in the subject line. Include a brief bio, contact information, and your complete original blog post of 700 words max. Suggested word count is 500-700 words. The site pays $25 per post.
Must-read personal essay: Anna Solomon’s “My Super-Jewish Toddler”
6. Luna Luna
A progressive, feminist magazine that welcomes all genders to submit content. Pitch online with a note and short bio. There’s no pay, but it’s a supportive place for a first-time essayist.
Must-read personal essay: “If These Thighs Could Talk,” by Erica Garza
This U.K. magazine has a helpful contributor’s guide. Unsolicited submissions, while rarely accepted, are paid; if an editor likes your pitch, you’ll hear back in 24 hours.
Must-read personal essay: “The Long Ride to Riyadh,” by Dave Eggers
The popular Modern Love feature accepts submissions of 1,700 words max at email@example.com. Include a Word attachment, but also paste the text into your message. Consult the Times’ page on pitching first, and like Modern Love on Facebook for even more insight. Rumor has it that a successful submission will earn you $250. (Correction added Oct. 9, 2014: Payment is $300, The New York Times writes on its Facebook page.)
Amy Sutherland’s column, “What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage,” which ran in 2006, landed her a book contract with Random House and a movie deal with Lionsgate, which is in preproduction. “I never saw either coming,” Sutherland said.
Another option is the Lives column in the New York Times Magazine. To submit, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Must-read personal essay: “The Wisdom of the Moving Man,” by Emily Raboteau
Salon accepts articles and story pitches to the appropriate editor (see: Salon Staff) with “Editorial Submission” in the subject line and the query/submission in the body of the email. Include your writing background or qualifications, along with links to three or four clips.
“I was compensated $150 for my essay,” says Alexis Grant, founder of The Write Life, “but that was several years ago. All in all, working with the editor there was a great experience.”
Must-read personal essay: “I Fell in Love with a Megachurch,” by Alexis Grant
Indicate the section you’re pitching and “article submission” in your subject line, and send to email@example.com. Pay ranges from $250 to $500.
Must-read personal essay: Rebecca Onion’s “The Pre-Pregnancy Contract”
Each print issue has a specific cultural theme and welcomes both fiction and nonfiction. Stories and essays of 5,000 words max earn $100. Review periods are limited, so check their submission guidelines to make sure your work will be read with the next issue in mind. Submit online.
Must-read personal essay: “Fire Island,” by Christopher Locke
12. The Awl
This publication looks for first-person essays that convey the universal implications of a personal experience. Email or share a Google Doc with firstname.lastname@example.org. Code your links instead of embedding them. Pay ranges and can be as high as $250, but as low as $30.
Must-read personal essay: Molly Osberg’s “Inside the Barista Class”
13. The Believer
Include clips or a publication history in your pitch, and allow up to three months for a response. Submit online. One writer reported receiving $400 for a print feature, but you’re likely to receive less for an essay.
Must-read personal essay: “Road to Rapid City,” by Brian T. Edwards
14. The Bold Italic
This publication focuses on California’s Bay Area. Strong POV and a compelling personal writing style are key. The Bold Italic pays contributors, but at varying ranges. Email email@example.com
Must-read personal essay: “The San Francisco Preschool Popularity Contest,” by Rhea St. Julien
15. The Bustle
Send submissions of 2,000 words max and pitches to firstname.lastname@example.org. Unsolicited submissions are unpaid.
Must-read personal essay: “Is Picky Eating An Eating Disorder?” by Kaleigh Roberts
16. The Rumpus
Focuses on essays that “intersect culture.” No pay. Submit finished essays online in the category that fits best.
Must-read personal essay: Michael Wong’s “Jack of Hearts”
17. The Toast
Prefers proposals over finished pieces. All pieces are paid. Carmen Machado, a humor writer in Philadelphia, received $50 for a short humor piece.
“I love them and admire their commitment to paying writers,” Machado said. Email submissions to email@example.com, and read their pitch guide first.
Must-read personal essay: “Whatever Works: Past-Life Regression Therapy,” by Bodine Boling
18. Tin House
Submit one story or essay of 10,000 words max between September 1 and May 31. Wait 90 days before emailing to check the status of your submission. Cover letters should include a word count and indicate whether the submission is fiction, nonfiction, or poetry.
The best way to submit is online. Pay can be as high as $1,000.
Must-read personal essay: “More with Less,” by Rachel Yoder
Must-read personal essay: “I was a Mormon Feminist, But I Gave Up,” by Melanie Schmitz
Still looking for ideas? Meghan Ward’s blog post, “20 Great Places to Publish Personal Essays,” is worth perusing. MediaBistro also offers a section called How to Pitch as part of their AvantGuild subscription, which has an annual fee of $55.
Have other ideas or details to add? Share with us in the comments!